As Cesc Fabregas raced forward into the box, delightful cushioning Andrey Arshavin’s reverse pass before firing it between the legs of Ipswich’s goalkeeper and into the back of the net I was hit with a wonderful wave of satisfaction.
“We’re in the final!” I thought to myself. “The final!”
Ipswich put up an admirable fight over two legs, holding firm at the back for over two hours and clinging for dear life onto their one-goal advantage.
But the moment Nicklas Bendtner broke their resistance with a piece of individual quality the dam wall came came crashing down. Laurent Koscielny’s header two minutes later turned the score in our favour before Fabregas’ late goal capped off a wonderful night of football.
I say wonderful because, regardless of what value you place on the Carling Cup, this group of players have earned their chance to win their first trophy as a group and what’s more, to play in front of a sell-out crowd at Wembley. Our boys will enjoy the new experience of a first big final and us as supporters will enjoy a new experience of our own: supporting this generation of Arsenal players in that final. What’s not to be happy about?
There was understandable stress in the hour that preceded Bendtner’s goal but full credit has to go to the boys for keeping their nerve. Our almost full-strength side was fearless on Tuesday and showed remarkable patience and poise before getting the crucial opening goal. There was no panic, just constant movement and passing to wear Ipswich down and pave the way for Bendtner’s delightful strike.
There was a worrying moment in the first half when Wojciech Szczesny crashed into Bacary Sagna, forcing the Frenchman to go off with concussion, but the team recovered well and dominated the first half. Fabregas was once again the focal point, missing a couple of half-chances before Robin van Persie, a player I was surprised to see start the match, wasted the only guild-edge chance of the half when heading another perfect Bendtner cross onto the bar.
Half-time nerves at the pub and in the stadium were calmed by the news that Blackpool were two goals up against Manchester United, but they picked up again as Ipswich held firm for the opening fifteen minutes of the second half. But them came Bendtner’s masterful goal, controlling Jack Wilshere’s raking pass with a magic piece of control, cutting inside a la Cristiano Ronaldo and finding the net with a trademark finish.
As long as the game stayed goalless there was a nagging feeling that Ipswich might do the unthinkable and dump us out of the competition, but the minute we went 1-0 up I expected us to go onto to win. That feeling was confirmed when Koscielny out-jumped his marker and headed home before Martin Fulop could get his gloves on the ball. The Ipswich goalkeeper was criticised for his part in the goal but had he stayed on his line it would have flown in anyway, Koscielny arrowing his header into the corner of goal.
It was party time and we played out the final twenty minutes in style, rubbing salt into Ipswich wounds by satisfyingly sending Theo Walcott and Samir Nasri on before the end and scoring a third goal through the captain.
If anything could sum up my feelings towards this game it was Cesc’s passionate celebration for his goal. He didn’t care what game this was, what tournament this was, what people think of the Carling Cup: he just wants to win anything and everything so badly. For all his supposed faults as a leader this is exactly the attitude you want in your captain and it will be a great pleasure to see him lead the team, his team out onto Wembley in a month’s time.
“We’re in the final!” I keep thinking to myself. “The final!”
And doesn’t it feel good?
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